Energy Reduction in Japan; An Inconvenient Necessity

June 1 2011

Yes, it'll certainly be a long, hot summer in Japan. A major consulting firm in Tokyo has mandated a 29 deg C (84.2 deg F) setting in their building. When I visited, the only illumination on the ground floor was provided by nature. The dim interior gave a feeling of after-hours, rather than early afternoon, and that impression was repeated as the elevator doors opened on an upper-floor lobby. One feels compelled to speak (and even move) more softly than in well-lit interiors.

Although the day was relatively mild, it felt stuffy; there was no apparent air movement. I wonder what the indoor air quality of buildings like this will be in mid-summer and what, if any, OSHA-like regulations are in place.

Subway and railway cars aren't exempt from energy savings. Along many routes, every other fluorescent bulb had been removed and open windows provided the only cooling. On the Keio line, the conductor turned the lights off once we emerged from the underground despite the dreary, drizzly day.

The energy-conservation movement has spurred one welcome development, though. Tokyo's legendary crowded "rush hour" trains appeared to be less so. I mentioned this in passing to a Tokyo colleague, assuming it was the effect of a poor economy.

Not so, he told me. Some big companies are implementing flex time hours as a way to reduce peak-time energy-use, which has the happy consequence of reduced congestion. Going a step further, the big consulting firm is moving away from the time-honored, exhausting and terribly inefficient practice that expected professionals to put in 10-12 hours of daily "face-time" to a performance-based policy. Consultants now leave when their assigned work is done; some actually don't arrive until the afternoon and depart for home when the sun is still shining. Anyone who has worked at a managerial or professional "desk job" in Japan knows just how immense a step this is!

Japanese retailers are promoting products to help keep cool; gel pillows and bed toppers are big, as are short-sleeved clothing for "business cool casual" attire. I predict that fans will be a must-have fashion accessory for both men and women.

It's still too early to tell how "green" energy initiatives will develop in Japan. Tokyo officials had completed a policy study that strongly emphasized nuclear power shortly before the earthquake, tsunami and radiation leaks occurred in March. The best laid plans...

Category: Enigmas, Tough Challenges
Filed under: Japan, Nuclear, Energy/Fuel, Green